Climate impacting a third of British bird species

| 3rd September 2019
Three species - cuckoo, little owls and reed warblers - saw numbers fall by at least 10 percent.

We can show that climate change is already affecting about one-third of breeding bird populations monitored. 

Climate change is affecting the populations of around a third of English breeding birds studied in 50 years of "citizen science" surveying, research suggests.

Of 68 species monitored between 1966 and 2015, 24 showed evidence that changes in their population were linked to temperature or rainfall.

Some 13 species including corn buntings, goldcrests and long-tailed tits saw a boost in their populations of at least 10 percent as a result of changing climatic conditions, such as warmer winter temperatures.

Seasonal

But three species - cuckoo, little owls and reed warblers - saw numbers fall by at least 10 percent as a result of climate change, the study by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and government conservation agency Natural England found.

Warmer winter temperatures have a positive effect on population growth of a range of resident species, probably by improving survival rates over the winter, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Bird Study.

And some species which have seen long-term population declines over the period studied, but which prefer warmer conditions, such as farmland birds including the corn bunting and grey partridge, may have seen less significant falls than they would have done without climate change, the study suggests.

The data used in the study comes from the BTO common bird census and from the BTO, joint nature conservation committee and the RSPB's breeding bird survey, whose fieldwork is conducted by volunteers.

Limit

This was compared with changes in the climate in terms of seasonal temperatures and rainfall.

James Pearce-Higgins, director of science at the BTO and the paper's lead author, said: "Given the changeable British weather, it can be difficult for us to see the long-term impacts of climate change, but by monitoring bird populations we can track impacts upon the natural environment.

"Thanks to the efforts of our volunteer bird surveyors who have been counting birds in England for over 50 years, we can show that climate change is already affecting about one-third of breeding bird populations monitored.

"Whilst some of these impacts have resulted in population increases, as harsh winters which naturally limit the populations of some resident species have become less common through time, there are also species which appear to have declined too."

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here